Premier League: Preview of Tottenham Hotspur vs. Newcastle United
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The Magpies' January transfer dealings have revitalized a squad falling worryingly below the standards they set last season. Wins against Aston Villa and, most impressively, Chelsea have engineered a vital sense of momentum as they head to North London this Saturday lunchtime.
The name on many football fans' lips after those two games was Moussa Sissoko. Having already drawn praise for his performance against Villa, the Frenchman's match-winning double against the Blues had Newcastle supporters and neutrals alike marveling about his contributions since signing.
Sissoko of course has not been the only new arrival to make an impact on Tyneside. Fellow Frenchmen Mathieu Debuchy and Yoan Gouffran have impressed while there are high hopes too for Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa (who has appeared twice as a substitute).
It is Sissoko who, up till now anyway, has been particularly crucial though. Along with the return of the influential Yohan Cabye, Newcastle have found a way of grabbing hold of games again.
At their worst this season (and it was usually without Cabye) they had a worrying tendency of letting matches pass them by, outfoxed, outfought and outclassed in midfield. The way Cabaye can help dictate the flow of a game has been evident at Newcastle for some time. Now it is Sissoko who is alerting those in the Premier League unfamiliar with him to the valuable presence he provides in his side's midfield.
Cheik Tiote has returned from international duty but will almost certainly have to wait for his chance with his manager Alan Pardew unlikely to change a winning team if he can avoid it.
As well as the new signings and Cabaye being fit again, having Steven Taylor back in defense has proved timely following the disruption caused by Fabricio Coloccini looking for a move away from St. James' Park.The Argentinian is still there, but the return of Taylor has lifted the onus of him as a defender and a leader.
The Newcastle defense might have been preparing to face a Tottenham side without a traditional striker on Saturday after Jermain Defoe was ruled out for three weeks. However, late on Thursday afternoon it was confirmed on Spurs' official website that Emmanuel Adebayor is in contention to start after his African Cup of Nations campaign concluded.
Even with Adebayor's potential involvement, Andre Villas-Boas has some interesting selection issues to consider.
Adebayor is only scheduled to return to training on Friday, perhaps a little too late for his manager's liking. If that is the case, Clint Dempsey might be the natural choice to use as the de facto striker. However, there has also been talk about Gareth Bale being given a try upfront.
Should Adebayor be given the nod, it is unclear just who will be chosen to support him from attacking midfield. The central debate being whether Lewis Holtby should get his first start ahead of Dempsey.
Pleasingly for Villas-Boas he has less to think about in central midfield and defense, where things are expected to stay the same as they have for the last couple of games.
Saturday's game marks the start of a potentially big couple of months for Tottenham. A win over Newcastle would see them into third place, at least for a couple hours before Chelsea play Wigan Athletic.
As tough a challenge as Newcastle might pose, a win is as good as a must for Spurs with competition with their top four rivals fierce right now. A derby against West Ham United follows next in the league, with Arsenal and Liverpool ahead soon after (as well as Lyon in the Europa League).
It is getting to the stage that Tottenham do not have too much time left to figure out who they are. They have done remarkably well in maintaining steady form even during this discovery process of formation and selection experimentations under their new manager.
For differing reasons Newcastle need the points too. Spurs will likely have a battle on their hands, but that is not a bad thing. If they are going to fulfil their ambitions this season they are going to have overcome some tough tests. There is no time like the present to get started in this regard.
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